Today is my last day in London and I am tied up all day with meetings and activities and then later I am travelling back to Australia. So I invoked the guest blogger facility and asked Victor Quirk to share his views on employment guarantees. Victor has just finished a doctoral dissertation and has produced one of the most compelling research efforts I have had the pleasure to supervise. He chose a very challenging topic overall – the political constraints on full employment – and compiled a very rich argument based on a substantial interrogation of an extensive array of primary documents which he sourced from various national archives in Australia, Britain and the US. Now that Victor has finished his work I hope he will share more of it as a guest blogger. So … over to Victor.
There were two very different Op Ed pieces in the New York Times on July 31, 2010. On the one hand, the “strategic deficits” man, David Stockman is trying to ramp up a bit of advance publicity for his upcoming book on the financial crisis which I hope goes out to the remainder desks shortly after being published. He is advocating balanced budgets and “sound money” – which is neo-liberal speak for austerity and rising unemployment. On the other hand, Robert Shiller is advocating a “just do it” approach to recovery where the “do it” is defined in terms of public sector job creation. I find the latter argument compelling when you look at the data and what it is telling us about the American lives that are being destroyed by the policy vacuum. I am also sympathetic to Shiller’s line because sound macroeconomic theory points to that solution. Stockman displays an on-going ignorance of macroeconomics although some of this views resonate with me in a positive way.
Today is actually the much promised shorter Friday blog. I had to write an Op Ed piece today for the Fairfax press on my recent evidence before a House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into regional skills shortages. So I thought I would expand on that Op Ed a little for this blog. In April, my research centre – CofFEE – made a formal submission to this Inquiry. In June I gave formal evidence (see below) and some interesting things came up. A conservative MP on the Committee thought I was insane for suggesting that the public sector might consider creating employment given the high degree of labour underutilisation we have in this country. Some regions have 50 per cent of their workforces idle! Anyway, today I summarise our submission and provide some text from the official government hansard (record) of my evidence.
Today I have reading a swag of literature which attempts to explain cross-country differences in change in unemployment and average duration of unemployment in the current recession. This issue has been topical in the US recently as the US Senate debates whether to extend unemployment benefits. The mainstream economics view is that the previous assistance caused the unemployment problem and a decision to extend the assistance will worsen it. However, you have to wonder what planet the proponents of these views are on. The overwhelming evidence is that the longer the recession the higher average duration of unemployment becomes and the larger the pool of long-term unemployed. The solution is always to stimulate employment growth. That simple truth is always lost on the mainstream. As you will see, among the proponents of the erroneous view that benefit provision has caused the worsening of the unemployment situation are researchers at JP Morgans. I would like to think that if the US government hadn’t bailed those bums out then these researchers might have been unemployed themselves. They could certainly use a dose of harsh reality.
In Sunday’s New York Times, the Room for Debate series focused on one of my favourite topics – Should Public-Sector Jobs Come First?. The debate turns out to be very disappointing because even the so-called progressive offerings fall short of advocating an effective solution to the jobs crisis. Only one implies an understanding that the policy design proposed should not be compromised by an errant understanding of the way the fiat monetary system operates. Proposals that assume there is a financial constraint on government will almost certainly be second-rate. The debate could have been energised had the NYT sought expert opinion from those that are developing and implementing large public sector employment programs.
In the last few days I have seen more calls from commentators for policy makers to take new initiatives to generate jobs and growth. Some of these calls have come from commentators and research centres that sit on the “progressive” side of the macroeconomic debate. Unfortunately, their proposals are always compromised by their demonstrated lack of understanding of how the monetary system operates. In my view these proposals actually undermine the need to advance an understanding that sovereign governments can create true full employment and should do so as a matter of urgency. By playing ball with the conservatives and choosing to focus on deficit outcomes these progressives divert the policy focus away from the real issues. In short, the federal budget deficit outcome should never be the focus of policy.
The OECD, the organisation that has spearheaded the abandonment of full employment in all its member countries since releasing the supply-side blueprint in 1994 – The Jobs Study, has now finally realised that things are very bleak in labour markets across the World and is saying more action is desperately needed. All their rhetoric in the last decade about making labour markets resilient and flexible through active labour market programs has not apparently stopped the major economies from going belly up.
There have been several related reports and articles in the last few days about adjustments that are going on as the economy goes into recession. New data is also available to shed light on movements in wage costs and labour productivity which can help us better understand what is going on at present and provide comparisons with the now perennial question – is this recession different to that experienced in 1991. Today I decided to write about these matters as an on-going investigation into what is happening out there in the labour market. This is sort of my other main interest in economics alongside the development and explication of modern monetary theory. Today we find that the neo-liberal dumbing down of our labour market may have saved a few jobs – but at what cost!
Today I have analysing the ABS Gross Flows data which reveals the underlying dynamics in the labour market that combine to give us the unemployment rate and other labour market aggregates. The current downturn is revealing itself to be quite different (so far) to the 1991 recession. While the chances of an unemployed person finding a job have fallen in a similar way to 1991, the chances of an employed person losing their job has not deteriorated markedly in the current recession, in contradistinction to what happened in 1991. The difference is in the hours data that we analysed yesterday. In 1991, the labour market contracted largely via unemployment whereas this time around it is contracting via underemployment. The flows data also reveals fundamental differences between Australian and the US in the sense that the American labour market is contracting more traditionally at present compared to our “underemployment” recession.
I was a speaker at the Sydney Greens Forum yesterday and today I am on a panel with Bob Brown at the Greens National Conference in Adelaide. Regular readers will know that in the past months we have been engaging with the Greens after I wrote – Neo-liberals invade the Greens. The initial reaction towards me was hostility but that soon gave way to a more reasoned engagement which I have found to be extremely beneficial. That is why I accepted invitations to speak at their functions. While there is a long way to go in fully articulating a modern monetary paradigm within the context of the generally sophisticated social and environment policy that The Greens have already developed I think the possibilities are now there. One issue that does emerge in my discussions is that of whether a person should have to work under a Job Guarantee approach to full employment. That is, should the Job Guarantee be compulsory?
Current problem: jet lag. I keep saying to myself – 1 day for every time-zone. I have a week to go! Today I have been in Brisbane discussing the Functional Economic Regions geography which I have created to improve spatial analysis in Australia. The new geography is now being used by other social scientists because it represents an improvement on the standard geographical boundaries that ABS uses to disseminate regional data. I might write a blog about this one day although it is very technical and rather dry. But life as a researcher is “10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration” although for me the 10 might be a little lower! After all I am a stupid modern monetary theorist! But today’s blog is about the Compact with Retrenched Workers – the latest policy joke emanating from Canberra.
I saw this in The Australian (on-line) front-page today – “POLL: Do unions have too much power?” So the campaigns are emerging: deficits, debt and union power. Seems like we are back in the 1970s when the conservatives last ran the union power campaign. The topic is apposite given the Government’s reaction last week to union requests to eliminate some of the nasty elements that remain from Work Choices. I laughed when I saw the poll – who are they trying to kid. Anyway, the current Government is playing hard cop with the union movement exploiting the lack of capacity of the latter to fight back.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the need for the Government to plot a course over the coming years back into fiscal surplus. Our perceptions of fiscal responsibility are being conditioned by the relentless media campaign that this is the best thing for the Government to do. We are being told that cyclical deficits are unavoidable at this time but the “structure of the budget” should point us back to surplus as soon as possible. This campaign is being supported by official looking documents that are produced by Treasury (notably the Budget papers) which have all sorts of technical terms in them that only the cognoscenti understand. The term structural deficit is being touted around in these documents and appearing in the opinion columns. But the way this concept is being represented is very misleading and is deliberately being used to obfuscate the lack of intention by this Government to seriously pursue full employment. Well lucky for me I am part of the cognoscenti and cannot be so easily fooled. Here is the truth.
There is a parable that the Australian Government still doesn’t understand – its the 100 dogs and 95 bones story that all children should be told at an early age. I will tell the story presently. I mention the parable because once again it seems that a major Government initiative designed to reduce disadvantage arising from unemployment will be poorly conceived and constrained by a reluctance of the Government to jettison the destructive neo-liberal approach that has dominated labour market policy for the last few decades. I am referring to today’s announcement from the Government that our youth will all be working, studying or training or face a loss of income support.
In the current edition of the German weekly Magazine Der Spiegel (“The Mirror”) there is an article about a “new idea to keep unemployment down” entitled Germany Mulls ‘Parking’ Unwanted Labor in New State-Funded Firms. The thrust of the proposal is that Germany is now examining a proposal to set up government-funded “transfer companies” for workers who lose their jobs as a means of keeping unemployment in check. A reader wrote to me saying that it sounds a bit like the Job Guarantee that I have been advocating for years! Closer examination suggests that while the Germans are starting to come to terms with how bad their economic situation is, they are still a long way off understanding how to get out of it. In that respect, they share the ignorance with most governments. However, being a Euro zone member, the German government has voluntarily lumbered itself with even more constraints that will make it harder to insulate its people from the ravages of the recession.
The unemployed cannot find jobs that are not there! I have written about that topic extensively. So today I have been examining what vacancy data is telling us about the labour market. The relationship between unfilled job vacancies and unemployment (the so-called UV ratio) is well entrenched in economics. The UV ratio is a good indicator of the state of the labour market because it tells us (approximately) how many people there are for each unfilled job. Of-course, it understates the degree of slack because it fails to include underemployment. Anyway, you can also determine whether there are significant supply-side issues going on which would require supply-side policies. As you will see in the following graphs – it is all demand side! Which tells us, yet again, that job creation is required.
Direct job creation is in the air. Yesterday, the Federal government announced its Jobs Fund yesterday which will allocate (sorry: a measly) $650 million to “support and create jobs and improve skills, by funding projects that build community infrastructure and create social capital in local communities.” However, I estimate a maximum of 40,000 jobs will be supported by this initiative. Put together the $42 billion and the $650 million, and you have a maximum of 140,000 jobs being protected if all the modelling is correct. Not a good dividend from the scale of public outlays. But … at least direct job creation is now on the table … finally. Now to scale it up to an appropriate level!
Yesterday, the Living Garden section of the Newcastle Herald published an interview with me on their Profile page. After requesting (and publishing) a short bio they asked me a series of questions. Here is the transcript of my answers and note the whole profile was restricted to 800 words.
Sydney Morning Herald journalist Adele Horin article in the SMH today – Here’s a stimulating idea: create jobs – challenges the Federal Government to get it priorities right. She writes:
If employment is the primary concern, there are surer, more direct ways than cash payments to ensure bosses hire rather than fire. If not now, a debate on the hoary old topic of direct job creation may be just around the corner.